The Small Steps of Lifelong Learning

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Illustration by Charlotte Day

The journey toward fulfillment starts with wonder.

by Dana Wavle ’85

Our lives are a sequence of small steps toward the attainment of our personal and professional goals. Since graduating from Geneseo in 1985, I have been a lifelong learner. My academic experiences at Geneseo — the classes, professors and ivy-covered buildings — instilled a love for learning that has remained with me to this day.

I earned my master’s degree in business administration by taking one course at a time while working full time and raising a young family with my wife, Sharon Congdon Wavle ’85. It seemed like it would take forever, but time passed quickly, as it always does, and I completed the MBA in five years. Each course represented a small step toward a larger goal.

Over the years, my desire to learn has only intensified. In fact, I can say that the sixth decade of my life has included my most productive and fulfilling years. Socrates tells us that “wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” At the age of 50, my sense of wonder about the environment spurred a desire to take an online graduate class in conservation from Indiana University’s School of Public Health (I work for Indiana University). I enjoyed the class so much that I continued to take graduate courses in public land management.

After writing a paper on leasehold interests at the Grand Canyon South Rim, I suggested to Sharon that we visit the place that John Muir referred to as “the biggest chasm on earth.” I wanted to see and experience it firsthand. Again, a sense of wonder spurred an idea. After several months of planning and training, we went to the Grand Canyon with our youngest son, Josh, and hiked it “rim to river to rim.” It was a 20-mile journey over two days.

It was the most amazing, awe-inspiring hike we had ever done. It was also the hardest thing we had ever done. The hike out of the canyon is 13 miles up Bright Angel Trail. The first six are manageable. Your muscles ache with every step, but the breathtaking scenery provides motivation to continue. During the last seven miles of the journey, every painful, grueling step causes you to question your ability to complete the journey. You eventually get to the rim by taking one small step at a time — for nine hours. In a way, it is a metaphor for lifelong learning — achieving the impossible one small step at a time.

My graduate coursework allowed me to complete a second master’s degree in 2017, this time in recreation. I naturally began to wonder, “What’s next?”

My major at Geneseo was accounting, which I have loved since my first intro class in 1981. The four-part CPA exam is the Mount Everest of accounting. At the age of 54, I decided to pursue this challenge, mainly to keep my professional skills sharp at this stage of my career. I passed all four of the required sections, and I am now a licensed CPA in Indiana. Similar to the Grand Canyon, it was one of the hardest things I had ever done. It was an 18-month journey filled with over 14,000 practice questions, seven days a week, while home and on the road. Each daily study session was a small step toward a larger goal. The joy of passing was the same joy I felt after topping out at the Grand Canyon.

According to Henry Ford, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” Age is a state of mind. We must always believe that we have the ability to achieve the impossible, regardless of age. Sometimes the hardest part of the journey is taking the first step — like Indiana Jones’ “leap of faith” in the “Last Crusade.” What wonders do you have? Be bold; take that first step!

Dana Wavle ’85 is the vice chancellor for administration and finance at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, Ind. He is married to Sharon Congdon Wavle ’85, an associate director for the Office of Online Education at Indiana University. She is also a doctoral candidate at IU. Dana, Sharon and their three sons returned to the Grand Canyon in 2018 for a family “rim to river to rim” hike.

Author: geneseoscene

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